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VRE projects incremental improvements in passenger counts

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t’s all guesstimating at this point, but Virginia Railway Express (VRE) officials are aiming to be able to recoup about a quarter of annual operating expenses through slowly returning passenger totals in the fiscal year that starts next July.

The transit agency, which provides service to the inner suburbs from as far away as Fredericksburg, is projecting the need for $111 million in operating expenses for the year, and aims to garner about $28.6 million of it in farebox revenue, according to a presentation to be delivered to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.

That’s still well below the pre-pandemic goal of recouping half of operating expenses through passenger revenue, but would be well about the percentage total received for much of the pandemic period.

VRE’s two rail lines (totaling 32 daily trains) currently are seeing an average daily ridership of around 6,000, a figure that is expected to grow to 8,000 by next summer and to average out to 10,000 over the one-year period between July 2023 and June 2024.


That said, there remains “significant uncertainty” about where the future might lead, given vast changes in employment and travel habits during the pandemic era. Even those employees who are returning to the office are not necessarily doing so five days a week; VRE’s summer ridership showed mid-week passenger counts of about 6,500 but Monday and Friday counts “substantially lower.”

The $111 million in operating expenses is the largest part of VRE’s proposed $176 million budget, which includes capital projects and resulting costs of debt service. Despite increases in federal funding through COVID-relief funds, the budget proposal currently includes a revenue-to-expenditure gap of nearly $32 million.

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